Friday, January 7, 2011

Allium cepa, the tear giver

A long time ago, in a small town in north India, I came down with a case of bad cold. And, against my wishes, I was dragged kicking and screaming to a "doctor". When you put quotes around a doctor's occupation, what you usually  mean to say is that this person is someone, who is better described with a sound that ducks frequently make. But, you cannot use that word for people who are friends, or family, or as it was in my case, a friend of the family. This man was a homeopath, which typically means that on your first seating, you will have to go through a round of grueling interrogation.  

How tall was your maternal grandfather? Did your paternal great-grandfather have a deviated nasal septum. When you sleep, do you, ahem, have deviant thoughts in your dreams? What do I mean by deviant thoughts? Ok, let us talk about that some other day...

And, at the end of this, you get a small glass bottle full of little round pills, smelling like alcohol. So much, that the temptation is usually very high to go and buy a good bottle of whiskey afterwards, which will also help a lot in curing your cold. And usually, the medicines have funny names. Conventional medicine has very sinful names for antibiotics, Strepto-my-Sin, Genta-my-Sin, Neo-my-Sin, and so on. Homeopathic remedies, have names that are all over the place, and usually derived from the substances used to make them. Phosphorus, Sulfur, etcetera. In my case, after an hour of interrogation, the homeopath smiled a big smile and delivered the judgement. Allium Cepa. That is what you need. And, you will be fine in no time at all!

Allium Cepa?

I found many years later that Allium Cepa is the scientific name for onion. No big deal really, since homeopaths believe that if a substance produces certain symptoms, then, it can be used to cure a disease that produces the same symptoms. So, since onions produce tears in your eyes, and common cold does too, all right, you get the point.

Somehow, that magnificent vegetable, which has scores of people tearing up all the time, had not drawn my attention for a while. But recently, I saw all the major Indian newspapers and TV channels mentioning the onion. First, I thought that what I always prayed for, had finally happened! When I used to live in the United States, I had certain very pedestrian reading habits. While my wife, the well read left leaning intellectual, would read the New York Times, and one of my cousins, the rich stockbroker from New York, would read the Wall Street Journal, I came to realize very early that I was neither rich, nor an intellectual. So, following the footsteps of millions of mediocre people like me, I would end a long and hardworking day with a read of The Onion, the world's most famous newspaper. You really tear up when you read sad stories like this. Whether you are slicing an onion or not, is immaterial. I always believed that someone from The Onion, would one day, get the Pulitzer, or the Nobel prize in literature. And so, when I saw the news stories, I thought that the day had finally come! Alas, that was not to be.

The newspapers were talking about something else. It seems that the price of onions in the Indian markets has suddenly skyrocketed. And every one's life is greatly affected by it. Of course, we have nonchalant politicians, who just don't care, and every time the price shoots up, they can explain it with demand and supply economics and lowered agricultural production. After all, we have an economist leading the country, how can we go wrong on that. But a domestic issue, with mere economic overtones has now blown into an international crisis. As it turns out, the Pakistanis have refused to export us their onions. Very soon, they will tie it to the Kashmir issue and deny you and me a well deserved meal of chicken do-pyaza, which, sadly enough, requires two onions. And apparently, India could not exploit it's new non-permanent membership of the UN security council to arm-twist the Pakistanis into exporting us their onions. So, I hear that Mr. Krishna, the foreign minister, is soon going to lose his job. No one messes with the onion. Or, the Indian people's love of it.

Once, I went out for lunch with a very conservative friend of mine. I was thinking of ordering my favorite chicken tikka masala and mutton dopyaza, but out of respect for my friend, I asked if he was a vegetarian. "Two hundred percent. In fact, I don't even eat onions and garlic," he proudly mentioned. So, Masala Dosa it was. Not that I mind when good friends are around to give me company.

I met that friend recently. We talked about everything. And, the price of onions. I told him that I was seriously contemplating turning into a two hundred percent vegetarian, like him. And that would ease up my budget quite a bit.

"Good for you," he said. "You will see very soon that your health has improved. And, your general sense of well being. You will become a better human being without onion and garlic. And, you will not get deviant thoughts in your dreams. What do I mean by deviant thoughts? Ok, let us talk about that some other day..."


  1. Brilliant post!
    homoeopaths are qualified doctors... with degrees and all! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading.
    Your blog is really wonderful,
    Will be here often!
    Keep blogging! :)

  2. Thanks Ruhi, for your kind remarks. For some reason, homeopathy has never worked for me. But, as they say, to each their own!

  3. i like the sarcy tone.. yeah, there in every post of urs.. but this one makes me flash a big grin :)